This article was published in The Beagle Annual-2009. Author-Ruth Darlene Stewart

 Identifying puppies that are show prospects or pet quality is a very important task. Breeders start at birth looking for any obvious problems such as kinks in the tail or bad bites that will automatically make a puppy a pet.  Every day the puppies change and grow.  But there are certain time periods where a good estimation of future appearance maybe obtained by the breeder.  This is the method I have used over the years.

Age 6 weeks of age    Estimating height at maturity.   Measure the height of the puppy from withers to ground.

Males – Height 6” and under – puppy will probably be a 13”

       Height 6” and up to 8” – puppy will probably be a 15”

        Height over 8” puppy will probably be oversized (above 15”)   

Females—Height 7” and under-puppy will probably be a 13”

      Height more than 7” but less than 8 ” - puppy will probably be a 15”

      Height 8 ” and greater- puppy will probably be oversized.

From the age of 8-12 weeks the true rating of puppies as show prospect puppies or pet puppies takes place.  In this period the puppies start exhibiting their movement and evaluation of structure is more accurate, from my experience. This is when the socialization of the puppy really starts to become individualized and their personalities are evaluated.  Watch for those puppies that are shy around noises, hides or is very shy around strangers, or those that are hesitant to approach strange objects. Having a solid temperament is very much a part of having a show prospect puppy. The puppy that comes to you eagerly and seems to investigate all the strange new wonderful things will probably be more of the show dog than the puppy that goes to the end of the whelping box and is very hesitant to approach a new interaction.

Many factors must be taken in consideration when classifying a puppy show prospect.   At 8 weeks of age I evaluate puppies by the same process as the 12 week evaluation. At eight weeks I am sorting my puppies and deciding which ones to place as pets and which ones to grow out until the 12 week evaluation.  Some puppies will be obvious pets at 8 weeks of age but I do my “official” grading of all puppies at 12 weeks of age.   Carroll Diaz, of the famous PageMill beagles, taught me this when my first litter was sired by her male-Ch PageMill On the Road Again. She thought that a miniature version of the adult would be found at this age and I agree with her.  From this grading I select those puppies that will be categorized as a show prospect.

You want to have someone that also knows dogs to come and help you grade the puppies.  Take pictures of each puppy in a show stack and make notes along with your measurements. The first thing I look for is balance.  A balanced puppy will become a balanced adult. All good puppies will have it. Look at each puppy, whether it is standing still or moving, no one part of the dog’s body should stand out from the other parts. In other words, all the pup’s parts seem to be in proportion. Proportions in 8 and 12 week old pups are good indicators of what they’ll be as adults.  Don’t try to over-analyze it, just let your eye settle on the pup and see if something jumps out at you or the other “dog person”.  If something seems out of balance, it probably is.  This is a good reason to have an extra experienced person help you.  They may see the same thing and can help you analyze the puppy. 

Step One: Sit the puppy on a flat surface.  Evaluate head planes, ear set, length of ear, eye shape and size. A beagle with proper parallel planes at 12 weeks will have them at maturity.  A high ear set or a shorter ear at this age will not improve.  I want a nice long ear.  If the ear length looks slightly long then that is a plus for me. The ears should reach past the nose at this stage. I have found that they usually grow into those ears. A small eye will be a small eye at maturity. 

Next check the bite.  The puppy should have a scissors bite. I prefer a loose scissors versus a tight scissors at this age.  I have had several puppies with nice tight scissors bites ultimately have level bites as an adult.  I want to see just a small amount of space between the upper and lower incisor teeth since the lower jaw grows for a longer period of time than the upper jaw.

Step Two: Stack the puppy on the flat surface.  Evaluate length of neck.  A short neck is faulty and usually is associated with incorrect front structure.  I want a nice length of neck that flows into the shoulders smoothly without a roll of noticeable skin at the withers.  Usually when there is a “rough” transition from neck to shoulders you will find the puppy has a shoulder assembly set too far forward. (Illustration 1).

Step Three: Gently set the front and see that the front legs are placed naturally, straight and true.  The puppy should not stand with toes turned in or out.   Assess the substance of the puppy.  Substance is made up of both bone and muscling and this can be better evaluated at 12 weeks of age.  If the puppy looks light in bone or heavy in bone then it probably will be the same as a mature adult. (Illustration 2.)

Evaluate the front structure by comparing length of scapula (withers to point of shoulder) to the length of upper arm (point of shoulder to elbow).  These measurements should be almost equal.  There should be good width of chest and fill between the front legs. In a well-angulated front assembly, the paws sit under the withers (the tops of the shoulder blade).  If the paws are forward of the withers, so that they are closer to being under the neck, then the front structure is incorrect (usually a short upper arm); the mature dog will have some gait defect when viewed from the front (coming at you) and generally will lack forechest. You may see this in the movement of the puppy at 12 weeks of age with too much lift to the front, paddling or flipping of front and usually a dip in the topline right behind the withers.  Evaluate the feet.  The puppy should have the correct cat foot with strong straight pasterns.

Step Four:  Measure the distance from withers to elbow and the distance from elbow to ground.  These measurements should be almost equal.  Depth of chest should end almost at the elbow.  If the chest ends slightly above the elbow that is ok since some puppies will develop more depth of chest with maturity, especially a male.  But there should not be a noticeable lack of depth of chest or nor should the depth of chest extend past the elbow at this age.  

Step Five: Evaluate the length of back.  Measure the distance from withers to front base of tail and the height measured from withers to ground.  The length of back should be slightly less that the height.  If these measurements are equal or if the length of back is greater than height, the puppy will usually mature to be an adult that is long in body.  Whereas a puppy that is noticeable shorter in body length (”- 1”in difference) usually matures to be too short in body or too cobby.  A beagle that is too cobby will usually have movement faults since the rear and front have to compensate and many times you will see sidewinding, paddling, or wide rear movement. 

Step Six: Length of rib cage is very important.  You want to see ribs that extend well back with a proper length of sternum.  The ribs should make up 2/3 of the distance from withers to point of hip.  The other 1/3 is the loin.  A puppy that is ribbing and loin is incorrect. 

Step Seven: Gently drop the rear in the same manner to see how the puppy naturally stands. They should not be cow-hocked or bow-legged from the rear. Rear legs should be straight and true from the back view. Any deviation from the straight column of support wastes energy moving and puts stress on the joints over the lifetime of the dog. The distance from hock to paw should be equal too or shorter than the distance from hock to stifle joint (second thigh).  If the length of hock is longer usually the puppy will mature with lack of bend of stifle and be straight in the rear.   I personally prefer puppies with slight over angulation as I find rear angulation does not improve with age; in fact it seems to decrease as the puppy matures. 

Step Eight:  Evaluate how the puppy naturally stands and moves.  A puppy standing naturally square and correct and that looks balanced will probably grow to be a natural standing balanced adult.  This type puppy will always seem to stand out and draw your attention.  Evaluate the puppies moving on their own in the yard and on leash.  A puppy that moves smoothly and efficiently will probably move that way as an adult.  A puppy that trots naturally and comfortably will be a better mover than a puppy that tends to trot in the front and bunny hop in the rear. 

Observe the topline; is there a dip behind the shoulders while moving?  Does the tail set look low while moving? Tail carriage can change as a puppy matures but a puppy with a gay tail at 12 weeks that comes over enough that the tip almost touches the back will usually have a gay tail as an adult.  Evaluate this when the puppy is moving on it’s on naturally in the yard.   If these two faults are noticed at this age—they will only get more obvious as the puppy grows.  Bad toplines and tail sets at this age do not get better in my experience.

If a puppy stands with its rear too far under it or with the front east west, it is off balance for some reason, and that imbalance will often be exhibited with improper movement.  If paddling, flipping or restrictive reach is seen in the front movement of a puppy, it will probably move the same as an adult. The movement you see in a puppy will be reflected in the adult, so telling yourself that the puppy will outgrow faults like weak pasterns, cowhocks, out-at-the elbows, etc. is just wishful thinking.


Illustration 1.

Illustration 2.

Here are pictures of a beagle at 8wks of age, 12 weeks of age and one year of age.  Observed how the adult looks like a larger version of the puppy. She maintained her balance and grew into the promise that was present as a puppy.